No Comments: Board majority unwilling to add general ‘public comments’ during meetings

By J. NOEL ESPINOZA
Special to the NEWS

At an administrative committee meeting on Tuesday, the majority of the San Benito Consolidated Independent School District board members attempted to stop the addition of an item to the board agenda that could bring general “public comments” back during board meetings.

SBCISD Board President Michael Vargas, who’s facing driving while intoxicated charges and a petition by some residents to remove him from office, joined Orlando Lopez, Janie Silva, and Victor Eloy Rosas in their attempt to stop M. L. Garcia and Angel Mendez to modify BED (Local) to restore general public comments at public meetings. Board member Sonia Weaver, who usually votes with the majority, was absent at Tuesday’s administrative committee meeting.

Although the school board does not take action at committee meetings, the majority attempted to stop Garcia and Mendez from bringing the matter to the next regular board meeting likely scheduled for next Tuesday (Nov. 19). Usually, committee meetings are designed to update, discuss, and review issues, but the majority acted as if they were taking action to stop the issue on the next regular board meeting.

“We can’t vote at committee (meetings),” Mendez said after the meeting. “All we need is two members of the board to place it on the agenda.”

When the school board voted a few months ago on the issue, M. L. Garcia said she was not fully aware that they were removing general public comments.

“I’m recommending to the board to please allow us to vote on this… on other comments not just items (on the) agenda,” said M. L. Garcia at the committee meeting.

Mendez agreed.

“Ultimately, it’s the public’s right to come out and challenge the government, the entity, or the body of governance,” Mendez said. “Public comments shouldn’t be eliminated from any dialogue from this board.”
Silva said she appreciates public comments, but she does not like the same issues being brought up over and over again.

Vargas and Lopez said they were not violating any laws and added that people could voice their concerns through other channels.

“Furthermore, there are other forms… that the public may express their displeasure [through],” Vargas said.

Before Sept. 1, when a new state law came into effect requiring school boards to allow public comments in the beginning or after the item on the agenda was discussed, SBCISD also had general public comments where people could bring any issue related to the district in an open forum.

The majority modified public comments as required by state law, but they also removed general public comments after people began to question Vargas’s troubles with the law in open forum.

Despite the new state law, in the surrounding school districts, Brownsville ISD, Los Fresnos CISD, and Harlingen CISD, all provide general public comments during regular board meetings.

Editor’s note: This article has been edited for length. To read the full story, click here or make sure to grab a copy of the Nov. 15-21, 2019 issue of the NEWS.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.sbnewspaper.com/2019/11/14/no-comments-board-majority-unwilling-to-add-general-public-comments-during-meetings/

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